By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN, Associated Press
BEIJING (AP) — Ahead of U.N. discussions on Syria, a conference of Central Asian nations Thursday rejected outside military intervention to end the violence there and called for a domestic resolution.
China and Russia, both attending the Beijing summit, have been seen as protecting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, blamed for a harsh crackdown on a 15-month popular uprising.
A joint statement from the 6-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization said "all violent behavior in Syria must stop" and said the group supports a broad domestic dialogue that respects Syria's sovereignty and independence. It said the SCO members oppose military interference, unilateral sanctions and the "forced transfer of power."
Despite widespread international condemnation of its actions, Syria's government has survived through a combination of brutal repression and the political backing of Moscow. Along with China, Russia has twice blocked U.N. condemnations and punitive actions against the regime.
Activists say as many as 13,000 people have died in Assad's crackdown against the anti-government uprising. One year after the revolt began, the U.N. put the toll at 9,000, but many hundreds more have died since.
The statement from the SCO, which includes Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, comes as international envoy Kofi Annan on Thursday will propose tasking a group of world powers and key regional players including Iran to come up with a strategy to end the conflict, U.N. diplomats said.
Annan will present the United Nations with a plan for creating a "contact group" whose final proposal must be acceptable to Syria's allies Russia and China as well as the U.S. and its European allies, who insist Assad must go, they said.
There has also been talk about a meeting of key world leaders on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Mexico later this month to discuss the growing crisis in Syria and possible next steps, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations have been private.
The violence in Syria has worsened recently, and it is not known who is to blame for much of the bloodshed. The government restricts journalists from moving freely, making it nearly impossible to independently verify accounts. The opposition blames government forces and militias that support them known as shabihas, while the government blames rebels and "armed terrorist groups."
Annan, the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy, will give his latest assessment of the Syrian conflict at an open meeting of the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday morning along with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby, and a representative of U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay. Annan will then brief the U.N. Security Council behind closed doors Thursday afternoon and have dinner with ambassadors from the council's five permanent nations — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France, a council diplomat said.
Also at the summit, the SCO granted Afghanistan observer status in a move to consolidate ties with the war-torn nation before most foreign combat troops depart by the end of 2014.
Russia and China have long seen the six-nation group as a way to counter U.S. influence in Central Asia, and hope to play a significant role in Afghanistan's future development, especially in economic reconstruction.
Afghanistan, whose president, Hamid Karzai, attended the summit, joins India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan as SCO observer states. The group also admitted Turkey as one of its three dialogue partners.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations.
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